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Prison Reading Groups project gets a hearing from Minister for Prisons

Roehampton’s Prison Reading Groups (PRG) was invited to a national roundtable discussion last week with Minister for Prisons Andrew Selous to explore ways of improving prisoner engagement with literacy.

Posted: 23 September 2015

image for news story Prison Reading Groups project gets a hearing from Minister for Prisons
Sarah Turvey, director of the Prison Reading Groups Project

PRG provides training, volunteers, books and other support, to set up and run reading groups in prisons across the country. Sarah Turvey, Principal Lecturer in the Department of English and Creative Writing, directs the project which currently supports 53 reading groups in 34 prisons. The advantages of diverse and flexible interventions such as these reading groups were strongly praised at the meeting.

Reading groups can be an important aid in prisoner rehabilitation. Reading and discussion develops literacy and group skills; it can also extend empathy, encourage critical self-reflection and help prisoners reconnect with both family and the wider culture outside.

Sarah said: “This meeting has shown that literacy engagement is a high priority for the Minister and his boss, Justice Secretary Michael Gove, and that Prison Reading Groups is recognised as a key player in the delivery of reading initiatives across the prison estate.”

PRG involves readers of all levels of experience, and supports groups for young offenders, sight-impaired prisoners and those with mental health needs. Each group is co-ordinated by a member of prison staff and a volunteer from outside, often Roehampton staff or postgraduate students.

Sarah hopes that following the roundtable meeting reading groups will be given greater institutional support, helping PRG reach more prisoners. She said: “At the end of the meeting, Andrew Selous congratulated us on our work and asked if we would like to see our programmes in all 130+ prisons in England and Wales. The reply was unanimous: ‘Yes (please) Minister!’”

Sarah Turvey will be appearing at Wimbledon BookFest in conversation with Ann Walmsley, author of The Prison Club Book, a memoir of Walmsley’s experiences of working with two prison reading groups in Canada.

The Department of English and Creative Writing offers a rich programme of courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, taught by lecturers with international research reputations and a passion for teaching.

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